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Separating fact from fiction: debunking 6 cybersecurity myths in the buy-side

BY Eldon Sprickerhoff

January 16, 2017 | 4 MINS READ

Cybersecurity Strategy

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With over twenty years spent in tactical cybersecurity and over fifteen of them directly in the buy-side (specifically hedge funds, alternative asset management, and private equity), investment banking, and venture capital, Eldon Sprickerhoff has arguably "seen it all" when it comes to cybersecurity within small to mid-sized financial institutions.

When eSentire was founded 15 years ago, the security landscape was considerably different. "Script kiddy" hackers have been broadly overtaken by organized crime, fake anti-virus popups have evolved into ransomware, and "Malware-As-A-Service" has leveled the playing field, letting anyone host their own malware campaign, without needing to know how to code. While the landscape has changed, many firms continue to operate under the belief that it’s the “same old/same old” when it comes to threats and security defense measures.

With that in mind, Eldon Sprickerhoff separates fact from fiction, debunking some of the most popular cybersecurity myths.

Myth #1: “My ‘one-stop technology shop’ can handle the security. I'm sure they already have it all figured out.”

Truth: It’s possible to outsource the function of information security, but ultimately not the responsibility of it. Your outsourced technical integration company may have a superb technical components skillset (that includes mail services, file/print, or even cloud offerings). However, security is an entirely different animal. It’s important that you vet the security capabilities of the integration company that supports your business to ensure that their offering isn’t simply a “bolt-on” to their existing technical offering. It’s worthwhile to at least investigate the knowledge, subject matter depth, and experience of their team.

It’s also important that you regularly test the backup rigor being offered by your technology integrator. Several times in the last year, I’ve seen firms hit by ransomware attacks only to discover that critical files weren’t backed up when it came time to restore.

Information security isn’t solely within the purview of any one group, whether it be your outsourced integration shop or your CTO. It’s critical that cybersecurity risk awareness is embedded in the culture of your entire firm. When the most successful vectors of attack invariably rely on the end user to effect (e.g. email attachments), it’s critical that educating staff and preparing for the eventual incident are necessary.

Myth #2: “We're too small to be on anyone's radar (and don't have anything worth stealing).”

Truth: Size isn’t a factor when it comes to opportunistic attackers. If you have a trading account, you’re a target. If you have a working capital account, you’re a target. From “smash-and-grab” criminals who are looking for credit card or trading account information to broad-based attackers using ransomware to profit one bitcoin at a time, attackers faking wire transfer requests, to attackers looking to get information to front-trade, somewhere there’s an attacker who’s interested in you. They might not have specifically focused on you (yet), but it’s guaranteed that someone is interested in something you have.

Myth #3: “We've never been hit by anything.”

Truth: It’s rare that a company can be absolutely sure that they’ve never been compromised by any cyber threat.

Within the Professional Services arm of eSentire, we perform dozens of vulnerability analyses every year. From time to time I’ve seen workstations where the antivirus updates have been disabled. Usually it’s because some piece of malware was downloaded which immediately disabled the antivirus updates, allowing the attacker to maintain access, uninterrupted, for as long as desired. Over the past two years, bold and blatant hedge fund attacks have given visibility to Ransomware and Business Email Compromise threats. However, that doesn’t mean that these attacks didn’t exist before. Attackers pride themselves on staying unnoticed; the attack category of Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) depends on it.

Aside from the usual wave of exploited workstations, we have seen a marked increase in exploited Android devices within corporate infrastructure. How would you know if your mobile devices have been compromised?

Our phishing campaigns typically net one in five recipients who click through and mimic compromise.

Now, are you really sure that nobody within your firm has ever been hit?

Myth #4: “If ‘the big guys’ can't defend themselves, what chance do I have?”

Truth: Defense is an ongoing fight, and with multiple locations, huge data stores, thousands of employees (some remote), thousands of clients and significant online access required “the big guys” have a more difficult job when it comes to defending their environment, in spite of having the funding to do so.

On the other hand, smaller financial firms have a much easier task. With fewer employees and locations, less data and fewer regulatory concerns, smaller firms can be nimbler in defending their critical assets.

Myth #5: “Technology can fix it all. We just bought a [NGFW|endpoint solution|blinky-light appliance] so I'm good.”

Truth: All technology has gaps. If technology alone could have fixed the problem, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. Security technology can measurably improve the security stance, but it - like people - is fallible. Before purchasing any piece of technology, it’s important to understand both its features and where it may fall short.

Myth #6: “Every security provider is the same. You guys just like to sell FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt).”

Truth: Some cybersecurity vendors do like to sell FUD and claim their solution is the only means of defense. At eSentire, we recognize this, and use a “zero-hyperbole” approach. We’ll describe the real threats that we see (with real-time, full-time eyes on glass) and work with our clients to find the best, most pragmatic approach to defend them. Gartner calls our measured approach Managed Detection and Response.

Regardless of which (if any) of these myths to which you subscribe, the first step is to audit your own security. It’s important that you understand what information assets are critical to your company, what legislation governs them, and that you take appropriate measures to defend them. If you find that it’s overwhelming, contact the experts at eSentire. We’re here to help.

Eldon Sprickerhoff
Eldon Sprickerhoff Founder and Advisor

Eldon Sprickerhoff is the original pioneer and inventor of what is now referred to as Managed Detection and Response (MDR). In founding eSentire, he responded to the incipient yet rapidly growing demand for a more proactive approach to preventing and investigating information security breaches. Now with over 20 years of tactical experience, Eldon is acknowledged as a subject matter expert in information security analysis. Eldon holds a Bachelor of Mathematics, Computer Science degree from the University of Waterloo.

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